Israel illegally revoking citizenship from thousands of Bedouin citizens, leaving them stateless

MK Touma-Suleiman: This could be preface to transfer of Naqab Arabs; policy aimed exclusively at Bedouin citizens – no Israeli Jews have been affected.

Israel is acting to summarily revoke the citizenship of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Naqab (Negev) desert region, leaving them stateless.


Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has sent a letter on behalf of Knesset Member Aida Touma-Suleiman (Joint List) to senior Israeli government officials demanding that the Interior Ministry immediately halt this practice aimed at Bedouin citizens in the Naqab.


Adalah's letter, sent on 23 May 2017 to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Interior Ministry legal advisor Yehuda Zameret, and to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, also demands that the Interior Ministry move to immediately reinstate the citizenship of those affected.


During the course of correspondence between MK Touma-Suleiman and the Interior Ministry, the ministry appeared to confirm the existence of this policy and even stated that it could affect up to 2,600 Bedouin citizens.


According to the state, their citizenship may be revoked as a result of earlier Interior Ministry registration errors likely made in the first few years after the establishment of the state between 1949 and 1952 when Palestinians who remained in the country were required to register with the new Israeli Population Registrar. However, the source of the errors has never been verified.


MK Touma-Suleiman has collected dozens of testimonies from Bedouin citizens whose citizenship was revoked on the spot by Interior Ministry clerks based of alleged past errors in citizenship registration. The ministry clerks advise the concerned individuals to file new citizenship requests.


Adalah noted in its letter that in a Knesset Interior Committee meeting initiated by MK Touma-Suleiman, committee legal advisor Gilad Keren had expressed his opposition to the Interior Ministry's policy:


"The Citizenship Law refers to cases in which citizenship is obtained based upon falsified details. In other words: not to cases of errors made by the state but rather cases in which an individual submitted falsified details [as part of his/her citizenship application] and subsequently received citizenship on that basis. The law permits the interior minister to revoke citizenship if not more than three years have passed since the citizenship was obtained. If more than three years have passed, even if the concerned individual had provided falsified details, a court must decide upon the revocation of his citizenship."


Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher stressed in the letter that these citizenship revocations are illegal: they are being conducted without any authorization as no Israeli law exists that allows the Interior Ministry to revoke an individual's citizenship due to error.


"The Interior Ministry's policy exceeds the authority of the ministry and it must be declared null and void, particularly since it concerns the revocation of citizenship: the most important constitutional right of all and the basis for other constitutional rights, including political, civil, social, and economic rights."


Adalah also maintains that this policy violates international law, which forbids revocation of citizenship and leaving an individual without any status:


"The arbitrary revocation of citizenship from Bedouin citizens in the Negev violates international laws to which Israel has committed. Article 15 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) rules that 'Everyone has the right to a nationality' and Article 15 (2) rules that 'No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.' The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons also relates to the ban on revoking citizenship and the difficulties arising from the absence of citizenship."


This policy is also a violation of the right to equality as it is not being applied to Jewish citizens. As Adalah further argued in its letter:


"This is a sweeping and serious violation of the right to equality. Application of this policy is, in practice, the result of wrongful discrimination on the basis of national [ethnic] background. Transcripts of the Knesset Interior Committee session in December 2015 reveal that the policy is directed exclusively at Bedouin in the Negev and that there are no cases of Jews whose citizenship has been revoked as a result of error in the registration of parents or grandparents under the Law of Return. This [policy] results in wrongful discrimination based on national background and it is therefore illegal."


MK Touma-Suleiman also responded to the Interior Ministry's policy:


"I have been following this policy for nearly a year and a half and the evidence collected during visits to the Naqab is extremely worrying. These citizenship revocations cause serious harm to the rights of Arab citizens residing in the Naqab. I fear that was has been revealed in this affair is just the tip of the iceberg and that what we have yet to uncover will prove to be even worse… This move may be a preface to the transfer of the Arab population in the Naqab."


CLICK HERE to read Adalah’s letter [Hebrew]